Downside: Air Pollution

Car Culture in Russia Shifts Into High Gear

Winds of change have altered Russia's political, economic, and social climate, but the air many Russians breathe is dirtier now than in Soviet times.

Russia's dramatic rise in personal car ownership is taking the blame. Poor air quality has been a long-standing problem. During Soviet times it was caused by the large number of factories in urban centers. But the closure of many plants as a result of an economic slump in the past five years hasn't improved air quality. In many cases, such as in Moscow, car exhaust has merely replaced factory smoke.

The city of Nizhni Novgorod is working to tackle the pollution problem. Some trucks and buses have been fitted with catalytic converters, which cut exhaust emissions. Private cars and public-transport vehicles are subject to annual tailpipe inspections.

Moscow plans to fight growing air pollution by requiring all private cars to have exhaust-control devices by 2000. According to Moscow officials, in 1998 all city-owned vehicles should be equipped with catalytic converters. Such vehicles are a small percentage of the wheels on Moscow roads, but release about 40 percent of the exhaust fumes, according to city hall's ecology department.

Still for now, it looks and smells like a losing battle in many of Russia's bigger cities.

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